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A Flock on the Fleet!

Category : American Sailing Association, Members

Some of the best moments for cruisers are when we get to experience natural wonders up close. ASA Member Whitney Garner submitted an intriguing photograph to the Photo of the Month competition, in which a sailboat lay calmly at anchor, bathed in a purple sunset and surrounded by hundreds of small birds in flight. I asked her to tell me more about this unusual scene and place, and her story tells of a sailing spot most of us haven’t been to:

We headed out for a sunset sail on a warm summer evening on beautiful Lake Ouachita in Hot Springs, Arkansas aboard s/v Slomotion. The sunset was unbelievable that evening with lots of yellow and pink in the sky. I started taking photos as fast as I could to capture the sunset as my husband and our friend Rod sailed the boat.

As we approached a small island (really only a few partially submerged trees), several hundred birds started circling our sailboat. The birds continued to follow us as we sailed into the sunset, and more and more of them continued to join us on our sail as we approached the island. Our friends, Tim and Tammy Welch on s/v Cabo Wabo, approached us with their sails down; the birds were landing on their rigging. After some time (and many pictures!) the birds finally broke away and headed for the island. When the sun set, the birds were all over the trees on the island and the sound was absolutely incredible. There must have been thousands of birds in the trees around us. My husband and I have been sailing on Lake Ouachita for ten years and I have never seen this phenomenon.

After sharing our story with several of our sailor friends and researching on the internet, I found an article about the birds. Apparently, they are Purple Martins; “Bird Island” is Arkansas’ largest known Purple Martin roost. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission estimates that 8,000 – 50,000 Purple Martins use the area between late July and early August, and we were lucky enough to have been there during that time. You can read more about the birds here.

Whether it’s seeing dolphins playing in your bow wake, spotting an enormous eagle ray beneath you, seeing a whale or huge ocean sunfish, or gliding past sea otters sleeping in the seaweed–sailing allows you to get up close with nature in amazing ways. Whitney’s story illustrates yet another of nature’s awesome secret moments. Carry a couple of good field guides with you–marine mammals, birds, shells–to help you learn about and enjoy the amazing world you can slip into only by sail.

Great story! I’ve been “under” the birds many times, but never this many and never landing on the rigging. Their songs and flying antics around the sailboats are an awesome experience!

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